Not all mobile educational apps released at stores manage to get high download figures. Many new apps are downloaded, only to be dismissed by kids as ‘too boring’. Let us here highlight the type of learning apps that have maximum likelihood of catching the fancy of the little ones.
Close to 50% of parents in the United States recently revealed in a nationwide survey that they had bought, or were planning to buy, iPads or high-end Android devices for educational purposes. In many other countries too, the progress of education technology over the last half a decade or so has been remarkable indeed. The number of educational apps for kids at the online app stores (iTunes, Google Play Store, Blackberry App World, etc.) is also increasing by the day. Over here, we will try to pinpoint the type of apps that are most likely to find favor among children:
- Apps that have user-friendly controls – First things first-if a child has difficulty in using an educational app, (s)he would stop using it…pronto! It’s vital for mobile app developers to realize that parents won’t be around their kids all the time – and the app they come up with should be easily usable by a child on his/her own. In other words, presence of user-friendly controls and smooth navigation features is an absolute must.
- Apps with buttons/tabs near the bottom of the screen – Even the best-mannered kids have relatively short attention spans. If the screen of an Android or iPhone app for children has too many random tappable areas, chances are high that the little users would get distracted – and the educational value of that page (at least) would be lost. Instead, buttons and tabs should be neatly arranged in a panel at the bottom of the screen. Developers should also note that most kids prefer interacting with mobile apps in the landscape mode.
- Apps that offer something new – In terms of content, of course. There are zillions of e-copies of classic fairytales available on the internet – and simply including them in a mobile storytelling app for kids won’t make much of a sense. Software content developers around the world place more emphasis on including original short stories in kids’ apps, that have subtle morales and life-lessons (something in the mold of Aesop’s Fables). There should be some uniqueness in the apps meant for teaching alphabets and numbers to toddlers too.
- Apps with bright, colorful UIs – This one is a no-brainer. Everyone knows that bright colors, interesting, lively graphics, and colorful animations appeal to children – and that’s precisely why these are the USPs of the best Android/iPhone apps for kids. The skills of proficient mobile app designers (graphic designers) come to the fore in this regard. Visual appeal is a crucial factor in determining the success of any children’s app.
- Apps that offer puzzles and gameplay – If a free app for kids has loads of readable text content (albeit with considerable educational value), it won’t be able to hold the attention of its targeted users for long. Gaming elements and other interactive features have to be blended in the app as well. There are several mobile applications for children that have word puzzles, treasure hunts and guessing games. For the more creatively-oriented, there are apps with coloring games and card designers. Several good learning apps are created in the form of games (e.g., alphabet learning exercises in the form of a join-the-dots game). Irrespective of whether a child is reading on the app or playing games on it, (s)he is always learning something.
- Apps that have BIG fonts and figures – The motor skills of toddlers below or around the age of 4 are still developing – and they are likely to struggle to correctly tap on small-sized tabs, icons, figures on a mobile app. A learning app for kids should ideally have large-sized text fonts and clickable/tappable areas. This serves two purposes – firstly, the li’l users’ attention is automatically captured by the big texts and figures, and secondly, chances of ‘wrong taps’ become minimal. The more difficult the readability and navigation features of an app are, the less likely would it be to become popular.
- Apps that have high-quality audio features – Children might not always be in the mood for reading off text from the app screens. A good mobile app for children should have HQ audio features – right from interesting gaming sounds and background music, to story-narration options. Of course, in nursery rhyme apps or music apps for kids, the sound features have to be of the highest order. In reading apps, audio options help children in learning and becoming fluent with the correct pronunciations of words as well.
- Apps that actively involve user-participation – To put it in another way, interactive educational apps are the ones that appeal to kids the most. On the screens (with reading material/stories, numbers, alphabets and such stuff), there should be sets of tabs and buttons, to encourage interaction from the children. To become successful, an educational tab must facilitate two-way interaction – much like the approach adopted by kindergarten teachers at present.
- Apps that do not distract – This is a sort of extension of the previous point. While interactive features are a must-have in sophisticated educational apps for kids, they should never come in the way of the latter’s actual learning benefits. For instance, on a reading application – the games and puzzles should become visible/unlocked only after the user has finished reading the text on that screen. Mobile developers often include automatic text-highlighting features to ensure this. Children should not have the chance to use an educational app as only a mobile game.
- Apps that load quickly – Oh well, most adults prefer fast-loading apps as well. Graphic designers working on learning apps for kids need to consider two things: the splash screen of the app should pique the interest of the targeted users, so that user-engagement levels remain high. More importantly, the app should load completely (i.e., the splash screen should not be visible) for more than 5-7 seconds. A child cannot be expected to stare at a static splash screen for minutes on end!
- Apps that have challenges and rewards – For most kids, there is nothing like a spirit of competition to spur on their early learning endeavors. That explains the widespread popularity of kids’ apps that have progressively difficult learning levels. These iPhone or Android apps for kids often contain fun reward systems as well (e.g., coin-collection or point-accumulation). As a child keeps clearing the levels and earns rewards, his/her self-esteem receives a nice boost too.
- Apps that never crash – Or have any type of bug in them. Mobile app developers place prime emphasis on testing apps for kids (on devices), before submitting them at stores. A buggy app not only generates negative feedback from the (disappointed) kids and their parents, their educational benefits remain untapped as well. In addition, regular upgrades should be available on these types of kids’ apps. Kids wait for upcoming versions of their favorite apps with bated breath.
- Apps with top-notch touch features – Be it tapping a story character to make it ‘speak’, or touching a word to find out its meaning/pronunciation – children should never face any hassles during such activities. There are quite a few educational applications for children that acquaint toddlers with the everyday sounds around them (vehicle noises, bird & animal sounds, household sounds, voices, etc.). A single touch should be enough to start off the playback on these sound files.
Learning apps for kids are, at the end of the day, purchased by their parents. This makes it essential for app developers to factor in the preferences of the latter as well. For instance, to be deemed as good, an educational app (iOS or Android) should have proper parental lock features. Including in-app purchase options (transactions to be done by the parents only) is also a good idea. It is difficult to predict precisely which apps would find appreciation among kids – but if an educational app has all the above features, its chances of success would definitely be on the higher side.